Spike urges voters to OK inmate work effort

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

The New York State Constitution prohibits a sentenced inmate from working, where his or her work is “contracted, given or sold” to anyone. 

This provision does not prevent inmates from working for the state or other municipality and most thought inmates who volunteered to work could be sent to not-for-profit agencies also.

However, a few years ago, the State Commission of Correction, the state agency that oversees all correctional facilities in New York, questioned the practice of allowing inmates to work at not-for-profit agencies, and notified Sheriffs they could not use inmates for not-for-profits, and suggested the State Constitution be clarified. 

Two separately elected Legislatures in 2007 and 2009 passed a bill to allow inmates in county jails to work for charitable not-for-profit agencies.  The issue will now be on the Nov. 3 ballot for approval by the electorate.

That the Yates County Sheriff’s weekend SWEAP program’s inmate labor could be used for non-for-profits in Yates County.

Sheriff Ron Spike supports this constitutional amendment, and recommends that voters give it their approval, too.

Spike says it was never intended that the Constitution should prevent a Sheriff from assigning inmates, typically designated as a “trusty” due to their good conduct while in jail custody, to a work crew at a not-for-profit agency or organization.

Spike said the law, which goes back at least to 1898, was probably intended to prohibit selling the labor of inmates to contractors or private parties.

Sheriffs in New York State typically assign inmates to work at cemeteries, libraries, service organizations, parks and playgrounds, operated by not for profit organizations.  Inmates are not paid for these services, and at all times are under the sheriff’s corrections supervision.

 “Inmates can use their expertise and can learn new skills while also providing real benefits to charitable groups in our communities; more importantly, the proper use of inmate labor is also a good correctional tool that helps to maintain order and security at the jail, and helps to relieve inmates’ stress by getting them out of the jail and allowing them to work in the community,” said Spike.